Land trust tested as new approach for creating affordable living choices

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville and the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust have combined forces to create two affordable homes on Cleveland Avenue in the city. The collaboration is the first of its kind in Virginia.

“This is a pilot project to work out some of the kinks but we hope this is the first of many Habitat and land trust partnerships,” said Dan Rosensweig , Habitat’s executive director, at a Tuesday groundbreaking ceremony.

Frazier Bell, Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust

“This is the beginning of a new type of sustainable, affordable housing ,” said Frazier Bell , chair of the land trust. “We are looking forward to many more sustainable, affordable housing units in the area and to working with Habitat.”

The partnership, which has been in the works for several years, combines the two organizations’ methods to achieve one common goal — provide affordable housing.

Habitat creates affordable housing through volunteer work. The TJCLT, a nonprofit formed in 2008, provides affordable housing by purchasing land and then leasing it to homeowners for a nominal fee. This allows the owners to only purchase the building, lowering the cost of homeownership.

“The beauty of this is that it is an effective mechanism to maintain affordable housing, especially in a place like Charlottesville,” said Robert J. Adams, a staff member of the land trust.

The collaboration ensures that by separating the price of the land from the price of the house, the property will remain affordable into the future. Because real estate prices tend to increase, the land trust’s lease will last for 90 years, stabilizing the price and ensuring the affordability of these homes for generations.

“In the year 2100, we can come back to this property and it is still going to be affordable,” said Melissa Thaxton, grants coordinator in the city’s neighborhood development services office.

The property will feature two attached, single-family homes. One already has been awarded to the Sugwigano family from Burundi. Jeremiah, Esther and their sons, who were relocated to Charlottesville by the International Rescue Committee , were chosen for the home partly because of their previous volunteer work for Habitat.

The Sugwigano family

“[Habitat] welcomed me, helped me a lot, and they promised to get a house for me,” Jeremiah Sugwigano said with the aid of a translator. “From that time on, I was very excited.”

The second home will be made available to another family who meets Habitat’s criteria. Habitat will focus on building the houses and preparing the families for homeownership, and the land trust will continue to own the property underneath the homes.

“We will be working on [the project] all the way,” Bell said. “Not only will the owners be partners with Habitat but they will be partners with the land trust.”